A Ride and a Roll

It had been way too long since I'd taken a ride on a motorcycle down some Texas backroads when I decided to saddle up on my Road King one warm afternoon in early Autumn. Nothing clears my head quite like a ride down some lonely roads, yet I seem to find precious little time to hop on the bike and head away from the city with no particular destination in mind. Photography isn't usually a big priority on little outings like these. Still, there are plenty of interesting sights that stir up nostalgic thoughts and I can't help pausing along the way to capture a bit of a quickly fading past. 

My image gathering companion on this trip was a Zeiss Ikon Nettax medium format film camera. It's quirky to use, with no working meter and focus distance guestimation. This beautiful camera, a gift from a dear friend, is a well suited for travel on two wheels. It folds to a thickness not much more than a deck of cards and slips into a jacket pocket or hip pouch. Sure, so does my iPhone. The limitation of shots on a roll of film, 12 in this case, is just what I need to keep me from turning a ride on a beautiful afternoon into a snap happy photo excursion. It's all about balance. 

Car Show in Georgetown

I'm a sucker for a good car show and I got to attend an annual show held at the Georgetown Airport a few weekends back. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed wandering around. I can easily lose track of time while checking out classic cars and I came away with my first sunburn of the year on an unseasonably (even for south Texas) warm February day. While I remembered all my camera gear, I forgot to put on some sunscreen. 

I had a couple new-to-me bits of photography gear with me at the show. Recently I acquired a Fujifilm XF 18mm f/2 lens for my X-T2 camera. I was curious about this lens as a possible replacement for my rarely used 16mm, which is a big, heavy beast to carry around in my bag. Additionally, I had a Nikon FM film camera with a 50mm f/1.4 lens that I acquired in a trade sometime back and never had a chance to try out. The FM was loaded with some inexpensive Agfa color negative film. The colors from this film are have a nice subdued look and I like how I don't have to do much of anything to the film scans I get back from my lab.  

Nikon FM, 50mm

One of the nice things about shooting the Fujifilm X-T2 is the great dynamic range. Color negative film holds highlights rather well. The X-T2 is arguably stronger in this area with the dynamic range modes in camera. I usually shoot in JPEG mode for events like this and I'll set my ISO to 400, even on a sunny day. This enables me to turn on the X-T2's auto DR mode, which will automatically underexpose a stop as needed for highlight control, then lift the shadows in its JPEG processing engine. It's a neat trick.

Fujifilm X-T2, 18mm

I performed a little experiment by photographing the car below with both cameras, using an 18mm equivalent lens on each. It was a dark car and I shot the shaded side. The shadows are more open in the film version but the digital wins with greater detail. Yes technology is a wonderful thing.

Maybe I'm just being nostalgic about film. The digital images are sharper and cleaner without the film grain. The dynamic range of today's cameras is remarkable. Still, there is just something about film that I like. Maybe it's just that it detaches me from the world of modern technology for a while when I shoot it. I tend to favor manual cameras like the FM. No batteries needed, no meter (the FM has one but I chose to shoot sans battery), no complex menus. It seems appropriate for photographing those beautiful classic cars. It's an overall experience of a simpler time.

You can see more shots from the show on my gallery site here.

Pushing TRI-X

I love the look of Kodak TRI-X black and white film. It has nice mid range tones and just the right of grain for me. At 400 ASA it often isn't fast enough for the conditions I find myself typically photographing in so I decided to try an experiment and push it to 1600 ASA. I had heard that it pushes nicely and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I like the results better than what I've gotten with Kodak P3200 in the past. The grain is negligible and the contrast is quite good. I only minimally adjusted the contrast curves of the film scans in Lightroom. I had my local lab, Austin Camera, develop the film with a +2 push and scan the negatives for me. I'll certainly be experimenting more with pushed TRI-X in the future.  Here are a few favorites from the first roll.

Olympus XA 2

I've been looking around for a small pocketable film camera for those days when I'm scooting about the back roads on my motorcycle and I don't want to be burdened with a camera bag over my shoulder. A few weeks back I stumbled on a little Olympus XA 2. The form factor is just what I wanted and I liked that it has a sliding lens cover instead of a cap. Without knowing a whole lot about this little camera I snapped it up.

This style of camera is really different for me. I tend to use my cameras primarily in full manual mode. That's not even possible on the XA 2. The only exposure control it has is the ASA (ISO) setting. The aperture and shutter speed are determined by the meter. There is no precise focus control - only a 3 position switch with icons for portrait, group, and landscape. The viewfinder is a simple window with a frame line. No through-the-lens composition here. I'm giving up a lot of control and that's outside my comfort zone. This will be an interesting and challenging camera!

The shutter button is kind of unusual on this little camera. It isn't a button so much as a pressure sensitive area. I thought it felt odd at first. The nice thing is that I had no trouble activating it even with motorcycle gloves on. One thing that is kind of annoying about the camera's operation is that when the sliding lens cover is closed the focus distance resets to the middle "group portrait" setting. That behavior got me more than once!

My XA 2 came with a flash and the original case. The flash is neat in how it attaches to the side and blends right in. I don't intend to use it so I removed it right off the bat. I intend to use this camera mostly during the day as a snapshot tool on my little motorcycle journeys and I won't need the flash for that sort of stuff. While it is all lightweight plastic, the XA 2 doesn't feel cheap. I've already had it out for a test run and the results are impressive. Photos taken with this little gem will be coming up in the next post.

Searching for Clarity

There's nothing like a ride on my motorcycle through some quiet Texas backroads to clear my head. The purr of the engine silences my thoughts and the sights along the open road are a peaceful respite from city life. A camera usually accompanies me, although when I'm looking to get away and regain my mental clarity, taking photos isn't always a priority. I knew I wanted to ride more than shoot one Sunday afternoon. To keep myself on the task of riding meandering roads as much as possible, I took only a compact folding medium format camera a single roll of film. 12 shots. That was the limit I placed on myself.

I took my shots in a few small towns along my little trip. There was Briggs, Buckholts, Rogers, and Davilla that I can remember. A few old and lonely structures beckoned for my attention. As I sometimes do when I decide to shoot film in daylight, I didn't use a light meter. The exposures were educated guesses. It's not tough to do, especially during the day with black and white film. The Zeiss Ikon Nettax I carried in my small bag is a gift from a dear friend. Simple in operation while requiring a bit of skill and attention to detail. I'd find out later that I was a bit lacking in the latter that afternoon. 

The Nettax is a diminutive, bellowed camera of a different time. It is operated as much on instinct as procedure. A viewfinder separate from the lens helps one to frame a shot. The only focusing aid is a distance scale. A red dot on the small focusing ring helps the photographer find infinity focus. Red dot...well, maybe to someone else - not so much to my colorblind eyes. Too anxious to get back to riding, I setup what I thought was infinity focus by lining up the focus indicator with a dot on the ring. Had I bothered to take off my sunglasses and put on a pair of readers, perhaps I'd notice there was more than one dot on the focusing ring. Maybe there is only one red one, I don't know. Apparently that's not the one I chose.

12 shots were taken, 11 with the intent of focusing at infinity. One was shot with a closer distance in mind and I managed to adjust focus accordingly (meters vs feet...eh, close enough.) 12 shots, 11 blurry pictures. Ouch. Now, I am known to shoot deliberately blurry pictures sometimes with artistic intent. It would be nice to say this was one of those times. I meant to do that. Um...no, that's not true. If these were digital files I might well have deleted them. Medium format film...it would be such a waste. In spite of my carelessness, I actually like the way some of these turned out. The soft focus adds a bit of mood that I think fits with the scenes and my emotions of the day. 

I'm not holding anything back. Here is the whole roll. I edited these for contrast, along with some dodging and burning. When I work with film scans I try not to do anything that wouldn't be possible in a darkroom. These are processed more heavily than I would normally do in post production. The out of focus images reminded me a bit of Holga toy camera shots I've seen so I worked with that in mind. The Zeiss is no toy and I'll try to use it more carefully next time. Then again, there is a certain look here that kind of works. Maybe there will be more sloppy focusing in my future. Next time I'll do it because I meant it. Here's to happy accidents.

Zeiss Ikon Nettax, Fujifilm Acros 100 film

Solitude in the City

I've been quiet on the blog lately. A sinus infection that turned into bronchitis has had me down and out for a good week now. After days of sinus headaches, hacking coughs, difficulty breathing, fevers, and just feeling generally lousy, I'm starting to return to health. Seems like everyone is getting sick. Ah, spring time in Austin, allergy capital of the world. 

Speaking of Austin, those of us who have lived here for many years are finding our once little city not so little any more. Thousands of people move here every year. Our traffic has become a nightmare. Rush hour never seems to stop anymore. The open land around the city is getting consumed with growth as the landscape is bulldozed for more subdivisions. In the heart of the city, new construction extends skyward as high priced condos can't seem to be erected fast enough. The city is changing at an alarming rate and I can't say it is for the better.

The image above was taken a few weeks back in downtown Austin. I like to run out with an old manual-only film camera and a roll of film every so often. It's a breath of simplicity and sanity in this fast paced gadget focused world. It's a time to switch off the smart phone and wander about in search of images with only my creativity and experience to guide me. Exposures are made by my judgement of the light, no computers involved, no batteries required. Perfection doesn't matter. I'll make mistakes. Not every frame is a keeper and it costs me time and money to find that out. A little skill, a little chance, maybe a picture worth keeping. 

It is getting harder these days but if know where to look in Austin you can still find a quiet moment of solitude. The Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge is a popular place and usually full of people on a nice day. As I was walking below the bridge I glanced up and saw the one guy. In that brief moment it looked like he had the bridge to himself. Far from it, of course. For a short time at least, he had his solitude in the city.

Image captured with an Olympus OM-1N 35mm camera with 50mm f/1.8 lens and red filter. Poly Pan black and white 50asa film.

Smoke Stacks

I was wandering around downtown Austin a bit last week, shooting a roll of black and white film. A personal goal of mine is to shoot a roll a month and I'm really behind in that endeavor lately. My little outing was long overdue. I needed an analog photography fix. Call me a luddite if you want. Technology is wonderful and the advances in modern cameras are truly amazing. Still, there is nothing like the experience of shooting film, especially a purely manual camera where the only controls for exposure are shutter speed and aperture. Ah, simplicity! No screens of menus or fiddly dials and buttons. I was shooting an Olympus OM1N this day. No meter, just experience and instinct to judge exposure.

The old Seaholm Power Plant is now a shopping center. The smoke stacks remain and the main building still has the old Art Deco signs and accents. I was playing with a red filter on the lens and the stacks made for nice contrast against a darkened sky. The film was a roll of Poly Pan F that I bought from the Film Photography Project a while back. I'd never used it before. There were some interest frames on my roll and I think I might try this one again sometime.